There are certain events in life that seem to be created purely for the purpose of testing the strength of a relationship. Such events have the potential to effectively “make or break” even the strongest bonds of marriage. The most prolific example being pregnancy.
Pregnancy is like endurance training for a couple. It’s nature’s way of stretching your tolerance levels for each other to the point of breaking, in hopes that you’ll snap like an elastic band and become so close that it stings when you smack back into each other …just in time for the arrival of your new bundle of joy. Being a family isn’t easy after all. Building up your tolerance in advance is a natural, logical thing to do. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy though.
The first trimester provided him with the pleasure of climbing into bed each night and waking each morning with a woman dripping with all the glorious symptoms of a three-month-long flu. Even a verbal mention of something that might look, smell or taste unsavory would leave me reeling. I still don’t know why it’s called “morning” sickness. My best guess is that it sounded better than “Always, everywhere, for no reason, horrendously miserable all the time” sickness.
Just as the smell of vomit finally started to dissipate from the house (and car and garage and bush in the backyard), the hormonal outbursts started. In my defense, I had a lot of very good reasons to cry. My belly had grown past the point of holding the button-fly on my jeans closed with a rubber band, yet I couldn’t justify buying maternity clothes to wear for only a few months. Eventually that need for justification was thrown out the window when my only other alternative to “maternity wear” became public nudity. At the time it seemed like a very daunting financial decision though.
I finally folded and bought myself a few pairs of maternity pants. Theoretically, that should have reduced the frequency of the crying fits. It did not. Already having been overweight prior to conceiving, I was then convinced that no one would be able to tell that I was pregnant and would just assume that I was now so fat that I required maternity pants. I know it’s illogical, but try telling that to a viciously hormonal pregnant woman.
It also didn’t help the crying jags that every time I’d turn on the television I’d see a commercial for a pet rescue foundation, featuring images of sad, sick and desperate animals withering away behind chain-link fences while Sarah McLaughlin music played in the background. So sad. So pitiful. All those poor suffering creatures being forced to listen to Sarah McLaughlin… **sniffle**
Regardless of the reason, I cried. A lot. My poor husband could do little more than rub my back, hand me tissues and cower in a corner. The third trimester brought with it promises of a glorious end to his suffering but it also brought me unbearable discomfort, aggravating hot flashes and insatiable food cravings. I once had a breakdown because we ran out of pickles at 11:00 at night. Ryan (being the kind, supportive husband that he is) jumped into action. He grabbed the car keys and drove across town to the grocery store, proudly returning half an hour later with a gigantic jar of… ZESTY DILLS?!
Just reading the label nearly made me barf in that bush again. Our fridge had been stocked for months with jar after jar of “original” dills. How could he have gotten the wrong ones? I handled my feelings of disappointment like a mature adult and did what comes naturally to a pregnant woman: I cried. Without blinking, Ryan grabbed the jar and ran back to the store, returning over an hour later, exhausted but carrying a tiny jar of “Original” dill pickles.
He had kept the store open an extra 10 minutes while the employees dug through the back-stock for those pickles. The shelves had been loaded with jars that said “Kosher”, “Zesty”, “Chips”, “Butter” …and not a single jar of “Original”. Luckily the manager had been very understanding. He probably had a pregnant wife of his own. In the end, Ryan diligently return home with the hard-earned prize. I’m sure he expected a hero’s welcome, a warm embrace, a glowing, beautiful, grateful wife …but instead he found me asleep on the couch, snoring, with drool on my face.
Ryan and I knew that going through each pregnancy would be a challenge, but we were determined to survive it as a team, together. Never was it “my” pregnancy. It was always “our” pregnancy. Our experiences in the past had taught us that we could make it through anything, not necessarily gracefully but always with a sense of humor. That became the goal: maintain a sense of humor. This process could have it’s funny moments. Right?
My husband’s place of employment had coincidently been located just up the street from my ObGyn’s office, which had made it very convenient for him to meet me there for each of my maternity check-ups. On one such occasion he had arrived before me. I took the seat next to him in the waiting room and asked if he had been there long.
“No, I just got here five minutes ago.” he said, then added, “Does your husband know that your here?”
The seats around us were crowded with women and I could sense them all instantly losing interest in the old copies of People Magazine and Cosmo they were holding. Ryan’s joking remark had gained the attention he had hoped for.
“Are you kidding?!” I responded, “He still thinks this is HIS baby!”
We both laughed.
The room became so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
The nurse called my name and we left the awkwardly silent room. The very second we stepped through the doorway into the hall, we heard the waiting room explode into a burst of chatter. Ryan and I smiled at each other. We knew all those clucking hens would have something to rush home and tell their husbands about. We’d be the talk of the town and they didn’t even know who we were. Why’d we do it? No idea! I guess we just like to mess with people and it seemed like an ideal setting to do so. I did read somewhere that role playing can strengthen a relationship, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant.
Don’t get the wrong idea about Ryan and I. We are usually very responsible people but having been together since we were kids, sometimes we find it challenging not to regress back to giggling fourteen-year-olds again. Parenting preparedness classes were especially challenging. I can’t imagine anyone expecting less from us when we’re instructed to wash, diaper, dress and swaddle a “realistic” hard plastic baby doll. At first we followed the instructions and completed the task at hand, gently scrubbing, powdering and diapering the creepy, stiff little mannequin with it’s angry expression and beady eyes. Once finished, we were then politely asked to undress the “baby” again, so it would be ready for the next couple. Ryan complied by grabbing the end of the swaddling blanket and whipping it off that burrito-wrapped doll so fast that it left “baby” spinning in the air for several seconds before it landed on it’s head with a thud. I’m pretty sure our instructor had contemplating calling Child Protective Services on us, but she just gave us a very dirty look instead.
I’m sorry but those classes were nothing less than tedious to anyone with common sense. At one point the instructor asked us how often we “thought” a newborn would need a diaper change in a single day. What kind of question was that?! Since we had already discussed how often a newborn needed to eat and the two activities generally coincide with each other, any logical person could have easily derived an answered. Unfortunately I had already grown impatient. I was pregnant. I was hungry. My butt hurt from sitting on a dented metal folding chair. I was not in the mood to contribute to the discussion. The teacher must have sensed my lack of interest because she called on us to answer the question. Luckily my husband was there to step up to the plate for me:
“Once!” he answered.
The teacher laughed amusingly and asked, “Why in the world would you assume they only need to be changed only one time, all day?!”
Ryan answered, very matter-of-fact, “The diaper package says ‘zero to ten pounds’.”
Again, maturity levels can be fleeting for us but the entire class had a good laugh from that one. Still, the teacher felt obligated to explain that the diaper package was actually referring to the weight of the baby, not it’s bowel movements. So if you are reading this and not familiar with diaper packages, I’m glad I can contribute to better parenting skills everywhere by passing that information on. You are welcome!
Along with parenting classes, we also participated in “Pregnancy and Birth” classes. I enjoyed these much more than Ryan did. We basically gathered twice a week to sit in a circle on yoga mats and listen to soothing music while our husbands gave us massages. Occasionally we’d learn a new birthing position or breathing technique and each class ended with us eating snacks while watching gory videos of an actual birth. I can’t explain why that didn’t bother me at all, while the words “Zesty Dill” made me dry-heave.
Our final pregnancy class consisted of an open discussion about our individual birth plans. We went around the circle and each couple described things like preferred pain-control methods, their feelings about natural birth, scheduled C-sections, the Elvis CD they wanted to play in the delivery room, etc. I found myself getting nervous as the discussion came closer and closer to Ryan and I. I really didn’t have a gameplan. I’m more of a “just run with it” kind of person.
Birth is a natural process. Millions of mammals go through it every day without epidurals and oldies music. I had never been opposed to painkillers either. How could I be? I had never given birth before that time, so I really didn’t have any way to estimate the pain. I figured I would go into labor (possibly have a dramatic water-breaking scene like I’d seen in the movies), my husband would rush me to the hospital where I would have painful contractions, one thing would lead to another and I’d go home with a cute, pink drooling little person.
I had seen the “Bringing home baby” television shows so I knew the process could involve painkillers, a C-section, vacuum delivery or a million other variable factors. It was always the parents who had over-researched the process and memorized every line of their notarized birth plan charts that went home at the end of the episode sulking and disappointed when they needed an emergency C-section, despite bouncing a happy healthy baby on their knee while whining into the camera. That wasn’t me. That wasn’t US! We just wanted to go with the flow, do what needed to be done and be content with the outcome. Still, I was sitting in a room full of expectant couples and one hippy-sentric doula-trained, certified “Labor and Delivery” nurse/instructor who all expected to hear me describe my dream delivery, right down to the lighting conditions and soundtrack.
“I’m really relying on that whole ‘stork’ theory.” I said, “I’ve been leaving my bedroom window open at night. I framed the windowsill with Christmas lights so it’s easier to spot from the sky and I’m leaving out plates of raw herring.”
Ryan didn’t miss a beat: “In case that plan doesn’t pan out, I’m planting a cabbage patch for her in the backyard too. Just in case.”
I’m so grateful that he’s generally on the same page as me. Yes, pregnancy is a serious matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but sometimes having a sense of humor can make a stressful situation easier to tolerate. This is especially true when the stressful situation lasts for nine months.
We had been blessed with a very smooth pregnancy the first time around. The baby always had a strong heartbeat, the ultrasounds looked good, my blood pressure was ideal and my glucose tests were flawless. This left us all the more unprepared when I was sent to the lab for tests to rule out a potentially dangerous urinary tract infection. Still fighting for that silver lining, I waddled right up to the receptionist’s desk at the hospital lab. It was no secret that I was 8 months pregnant by then. I was huge. I had become accustomed to wearing long tank tops under my maternity shirts because even the extended lengths of fabric wouldn’t cover my protruding belly otherwise. This fact made the expression on that woman’s face even more priceless when I requested a urine test, then (with a very serious expression on my face) leaned in and added in a low voice “I think I might be pregnant!”
To this day, I can’t walk past that desk without that woman chuckling to herself and shaking her head.
Luckily everything turned out just fine. Eventually I went into labor. I had painfully strong contractions for ten days without dilating before the hospital decided to intervene and induce me. Two days later I was pushing out a baby when further complications required the use of an epidural and vacuum assistance. It was another week before we were able to leave the hospital with our beautiful little boy. The complications had been numerous and I was grateful that we hadn’t obsessed about a birth plan (since it would’ve been tossed out the window anyway) but we were thrilled with the outcome. Our son was perfect.
The moral of the story is that when things get stressful and scary, it’s OK to smile (even laugh!), as long as you do it together. Besides, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine the potential danger if you were to laugh directly at your pregnant wife. It wouldn’t be pretty. “With” is the key word here: Laugh “with” your wife, not “at” her. I can’t stress that enough. Ryan and I have always been able to laugh our way through just about every obstacle that we’ve been faced with. Pregnancy was no exception. We found humor in every doctor appointment, swollen ankle, craving, cramp and contraction (if not at the time, always in hindsight). Again, I’m not saying it’ll be easy, just that having a sense of humor can take the edge off. Stay focused on the goal. Every bootcamp has a graduation ceremony to look forward to, even relationship bootcamp. You should just count your blessings and be grateful that you aren’t the one who will be pushing out the baby to graduate from this one!
About the Author: Ann Milligan started dating her husband when they were only fourteen years old. After spending a full decade effectively preventing him from escaping, he eventually surrendered, proposed, and they tied the knot in 2007. Ann now spends her free time caring for their two-year-old son and anticipating the arrival of their second child any day now. She believes the key to a successful relationship is communication, negotiation, humor ...and allowing her husband to proof-read and approve her writing before airing her family's dirty laundry online for the world to read.